By Jim Bleyer
State Rep. Janet Cruz is under fire for the same political deception that forced the resignation of her Florida House colleague Daisy Baez one year ago.
A week after resigning from office, fellow Democrat Baez pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor perjury charge for lying about her address on a voter-registration form. Cruz, who represents residents in HD 62, also used a different address on her form than her actual residence.
There is an ethics complaint filed against the term-limited Cruz who is fighting an uphill battle to unseat incumbent State Sen. Dana Young in Hillsborough County.
In addition to resigning, Baez paid a $1,000 fine, took an ethics course and served one year of probation, during which time she hasn’t been able to run for public office, according to the plea agreement.
While the ethics complaint was pending against Baez, Cruz, in a statement as minority leader, did not address the merits of the allegations.
“I consider Rep. Baez a friend and I know her to be a dedicated public servant,’’ Cruz said. “I look forward to this issue receiving a fair review under the process in place and it is my hope a timely resolution can be reached,”
Not exactly a stand-up gal. Maybe that was because Cruz essentially walks the same ethical/criminal tightrope that Baez was found guilty of.
A 51-page complaint filed against Cruz on Oct. 11 by Tampa resident Rocio Paulsen, notes that records show Cruz owns two homes, both in Jackie Toledo’s South Tampa HD 60. One is located at 4114 W. Empedrado St., the other at 4428 W. Wisconsin Ave. Cruz’s husband owns another home in HD 60, at 5035 W. San Miguel St.
Property records for Cruz’s Empedrado Street property list her mailing address as her husband’s home on San Miguel and a car registration for a 2016 BMW 328 also lists the San Miguel residence as her mailing address.
Earlier this year credibility problems by Cruz-Rifkin (her nonpolitical surname) surfaced again when she repaid $32,000 plus fees and penalties to the Hillsborough County Property Appraiser for claiming two homestead exemptions.
During the 2016 campaign, Baez was not actually living in the district for which she was running. Investigators believe Baez lied when she filled out a voter registration form changing her address to a condo in the district days before the November 2016 election.
On the form, Baez claimed to reside at the Anderson Avenue condo in the district.
But her friend, Maritza Jacobson, told investigators that Baez asked if she could list her home as her residence. Baez, while signing a lease indicating she rented a room at the condo, “never moved in nor did she ever stay at their residence for a single night,” according to a statement released by prosecutors.
“Deliberately swearing to false information essential to your role as a state legislator, as alleged in this case, eats at the credibility of our voting and political systems,” Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernández Rundle said in a statement. “I believe that there can never be a good reason for such action.”